|« Prev||IX. Integrity and Grace.||Next »|
INTEGRITY AND GRACE.
“Judge me O Lord according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.”—Ps. vii, 8.
A truly noble confidence!—and yet many of our time would call the language very dangerous, or scarcely Christian, language, if it were spoken by any but one of the scripture saints. What can be a slipperier footing, they would say, for any sinner of mankind, than to be appealing to God in the confidence of his own righteousness; or, what is even worse, in the confidence of his mere integrity? What does it show but a state of egregious, fearfully overgrown, spiritual conceit, coupled with a prodigious self-ignorance? And what could evince a lower sense of God and religion? We shall see whether it is so, or must needs be so in all cases or not.
It may not be amiss to note that some Unitarian teachers, on the other hand, charge it as a fault in our doctrine of salvation by grace, or justification by faith, that it lets down even the standards of our morality itself; making grace a cover for all defections from honor, truth, honesty, and whatever belongs to the 181 outward integrity of our practices; allowing us to be selfish, heartless, perfidious, crafty, cruel, mean, and all this in good keeping, because it is a part of our merit under grace, to have no merit.
Let us pursue this subject, and see if we can find the true place for integrity under the Christian salvation. And we shall best open the inquiry, I think, by noting—
1. How the scriptures speak of integrity; how manifold and bold the forms in which they commend it, and how freely the good men of the scripture times testify their consciousness of it, in their appeals to God. The text I have cited does not stand alone. In the twenty-sixth Psalm, David says again—“Judge me O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity.” And again—“But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity.” The Proverbs testify in language still more unqualified,—“that the integrity of the upright shall preserve them,” “The just man walketh in his integrity.” In the same view it is, that good men are so often called “the upright” and “the just”—“Mark the perfect man and behold the upright,” “The way of the just is uprightness, thou most upright dost weigh the path of the just.” They are called “righteous” too and “right” in the same manner, and it is even declared that they “shall deliver their own souls by their righteousness.” And lest we should imagine that the integrity, honored by so many commendations and examples, is only a crude and partial conception, belonging to the piety of the Old Testament, the Christian disciples of the New 182 are testifying also in a hundred ways, to the integrity, before God and man, in which they consciously live. They dare to say that they have a conscience void of offense, that they serve God with a pure conscience, that they count it nothing to be judged of man’s judgment, when they know that God approves them. They rejoice in the confidence that they are made manifest unto God, and tenderly hope that they may be made manifest also in the consciences of men. They are so assured in the sense of their own integrity, as followers of Christ, that they even dare to exhort others to walk as they have them for examples. And this holy consciousness of being right with God, of being wholly offered up to him, of wanting to know nothing but Christ, of losing all things for his sake, appears and reappears in as many forms as language can possibly take. They spend their life, as it were, in the testimony that they please God. Making the strongest confessions of ill desert, and resting their salvation everywhere on the justifying grace and righteousness of God, they still are able, somehow, to be free in professing their own conscious integrity in their discipleship, and the sense they have of being right and true—whole men, so to speak, in the service of their master. Whether we can explain the riddle, or not, so it is. But the explanation is not difficult, and, before we have done, will be made sufficiently clear. Consider then—
2. What integrity means, or what is the state intended by it. As an integer is a whole, in distinction from a fraction, which is only a part, so a man of integrity 183 is a man whose aim, in the right, is a whole aim, in distinction from one whose aim is divided, partial, or unstable. It is such a state of right intention as allows the man to be consciously right-minded, and to firmly rest in the singleness of his purpose. He is a man who stands in the full honors of rectitude before his own mind or conscience. It does not mean that he has never been a sinner, or that he is not now, as regards the disorders and moral weaknesses of his nature, but simply that whatever may have been his life, or the guilt of it, he is now turned, as regards the intent of his soul, to do and be wholly right; firmly set, of course, to receive all the possible helps in his reach, for maintaining a life wholly right with God and man.
But we must not pass over the distinction between what is called commercial, or social integrity, and the higher integrity of religion. This commercial integrity which is greatly affected and much praised among men, relates, only to matters of truth and personal justice in the outward affairs of life, and becomes integrity only because it is measured by a partial and merely human standard, viz., the standard of the market, and of social opinion. Such a character is always held in high respect among men, and, what is more, it should be. It is really refreshing in this selfish, scheming, sharp-dealing world, to meet an honest man. Whether he be a Christian or not, we love to honor such a man. It will also be seen that he is a man who means, at least so far, to honor himself. But it does not follow that such a man’s integrity is complete enough even to give him a 184 good conscience. He is, after all, it may be, no such integer in his confidence, or the approbation of his own mind, as he consciously might be. His intent is not really right, that is to accept the principle of right doing in its breadth, as the arbiter of all action, and do and be all right and forever. All that can be said of him, all that he will say for himself, is that he has had it for his law to speak the truth, fulfill his promises, and deal fairly by his fellow men. Still it is not, and has never been his aim, or object, to do what is right to God; and that if I am not mistaken, is a matter of much higher consequence and more necessary to his real integrity. God is a person as truly as men are, more closely related to us than they, a better friend, one who has more feeling to be injured than they all, claims of right more sacred. What then does it signify that a man gives men their due, and will not give God his? Does it give one a title to be called humane, that he will not stick a fly with a pin because of his tenderness, and yet will stab, in bitter grudge, his fellow man? Does it fitly entitle one to the name of a just man, that he is honest and fair with men of one color, and not with those of another, honest and fair on three days, or even five days in the week, and not on the days that remain? What then shall we think of the mere commercial integrity just described, taken by itself? Calling it integrity, it is still integrity by halves, and, of course, without the principle; integrity by market standards only, and not by any standard that makes. a real integer in duty. Real integrity begins with the principle, meaning 185 to give every one his due; to be right with God, as with men, right against popularity as with it, right everywhere, wholly and eternally right.
You perceive, in this manner, how easy it is for a man to be in great repute for this virtue, and yet be wholly uncommitted to principle in it. Nay, he may even be a very bad man. Examples of the kind will occur to almost any one. I knew in college, and afterward in a remote part of the country, a man of such repute now in the law, that he was said to have made the greatest argument ever presented before the Supreme Court at Washington, whose reputation, as a kind of Cato in this matter of market integrity, was scarcely less remarkable. He had more than once kicked a man out of his office, who had come to engage him in a case plainly tainted with fraud, and would never allow himself to gain a point, by the least deviation from truth. And yet he was a man of many vices, and a man, withal, of such infernal temper, that his wife and children knew him only as a tyrant scarcely endurable. Getting exasperated almost to the pitch of insanity, by what he conceived to be a base attempt of his law partner to jew him, for he was a Jew, in a matter of business, he drew off in disgust and anger from his practice, determined to add nothing more to the profits of the concern, where before he had, in fact, brought all. As the contract still existed in law, the right of his proceeding might be questioned, but his almost overgrown sensibilities to points of honor would no longer suffer him even to look upon the face of such a man. Still he 186 would not so far disrespect the contract as to open a separate and rival office, but hired himself out as a common laborer in unloading coal from one of the ships in the harbor. While at work there, smirched and grimed by coal-dust, there came to him, in a few days, a client who wanted to engage him in a great cause involving the title to a vast property. Inasmuch as he must live, apart from all profits, he finally consented to undertake it, on condition that he should receive only a small day-wages allowance. He won the cause. And then, five or six years after, when he had his family with him, and was known to be short in the means of living, his old client, whom he had made a rich man, sent him a present of twenty thousand dollars. He was rather offended than pleased—as if he would do so mean a thing as to cover up the fact of a fee, under the semblance of a stipulation for day-wages! Forthwith he returned the present, and when it was renewed as a present to his wife, he required her also to send it back. If his partner had seen fit to raise a legal claim for the money as a fee, he might easily have been quieted by half the sum, but rather than consent to enrich a knave by that amount, he preferred to rob his family of the same.
Now this man, so keenly sensitive to the matter of honor in business, as to be well nigh demonized by it, was not even a virtuous man. He was, in fact, the most magnificently abominable man I ever knew. And he died as he lived. The steamer on which he was a passenger sprung aleak at sea, and when they called 187 him to the pumps, protesting, with an oath, that he would do no so mean thing as to pump for his life, he locked himself up in his state-room, and there he stayed, like a tiger in his cage, till the ship went down.
Was he then a man of integrity? In one view he certainly was, and that was his reputation. Still he was a man false to every right principle, both of God and man, but just one; an example in which any one may see how little the boasted integrity of commercial honor and truth may signify, when taken alone.
I could easily have given you a thousand nobler and more beautiful examples of integrity, in the spheres of business, and before the human standards of commercial obligation. I give you this, just because it is so nearly repulsive; showing, in that manner, how little true merit of character belongs to this kind of virtue, when it stands by itself. How far off is it then from being any true equivalent for that Broad, universal, radically principled, integrity that includes religion. Whoever is in the principle of right-doing, as a principle, will be ready to do all right, always, and everywhere—to God as to men, to men as to God. This it is and this only that makes a genuinely whole-intent man, thus a man of integrity.
There is, then, a kind of integrity which goes vastly beyond the mere integrity of trade, and which is the only real integrity. The other is merely a name in which men of the market compliment themselves, when they observe their own standards; though consciously neglecting the higher standards of right as before God. 188 This higher, and only real, integrity, is the root of all true character, and must be the condition, somehow, of Christian character itself. Let us inquire—
3. In what manner? Christ, we say, does not undertake to save men by their merit, or on terms of justice and reward, but to save them out of great ill desert rather, and by purely gratuitous favor. What place have we then under such a scheme of religion, for insisting on the need of integrity at all. Does it not even appear to be superseded, or dispensed with?
I wish I could deny that some pretendedly orthodox Christians do not seem, in fact, to think so. It is the comfort of what they call their piety, that God is going to dispense with all merit in them, and this they take to mean about the same thing as dispensing with all the sound realities of character—all exactness of principle and conduct. They are sometimes quite sanctimonious in this kind of faith. Cunning, sharp, untruthful, extortious, they look up piously still, at the top of what they call their faith, and bless God that he is able to hide a multitude of sins—able to save great sinners of whom they are chief! Submitting themselves habitually to evil, they compliment themselves in abundant confessions of sin; counting it apparently a kind of merit that they live loosely enough to make salvation by merit impossible. Ten times a day they declare that they will know nothing but Christ and him crucified, and lest they should miss of such a faith, they do not spare to crucify him abundantly themselves!
It can not be that such persons are not in a great 189 mistake. Any scheme of salvation that undertakes to save without integrity, has, to say the least, a very poor title to respect. And it ought to be evident beforehand, that Christianity is no such scheme at all.
Yes doubtless, it will be said, there must be such a thing as integrity—that is, commercial integrity—in Christian men, else they would bring very great scandal on the cause. Is it then permitted that, if they will be just and true in trade and in society, they may safely consent to be out of integrity with God? Looking at the principle of things, for there is nothing else to look at here, it would seem that the Great God and Father of us all is certainly as much entitled to consideration from us as we are from each other, and how can there be any genuine principle at all in a disciple, who is not in that higher integrity which includes doing justice to God—being right with God?
There must then be some place for the claim of integrity in our gospel, even though it be a scheme of salvation by grace. Nor does the solution of the matter appear to be difficult. Integrity, we have seen, is wholeness of aim, or intent; but mere intent of soul does not make and never could complete a character. It is even conceivable that a soul steeped in the disorders of sin, might take up such a kind of intent, on its own part, and, acting by itself, be only baffled in continual defeats and failures to the end of life, There is no redeeming efficacy in right intent, taken by itself—it would never vanquish the inward state of evil at all. And yet it is just that by which all evil will be vanquished, under 190 Christ and by grace, because it puts the soul in such a state as makes the grace-power of Christ, co-working with it, effectual. Conscious of wrong, for example, and groaning under the bitterness of it, I take it up as my intent to be and become wholly right. Then I find Christ near me—O how near!—yielding me his divine sympathy, and pouring his whole tenderness into my feeling. As regards the guilty past, he will justify me freely, and hold me to account no more. As regards the future, he will take me as a friend, raise my conceptions of what is good by his own beauty, ennoble my feeling by society with him, draw me up out of my lowness and my weak corruptions, by his character great in suffering, and so enable me to conquer all my evils, as he conquered his. As certainly then as I come into right intent, I shall come into faith, and trust myself to him, as a means of becoming what I have undertaken to become.
Here then is the place of integrity. It is even presupposed in all true faith, and enters, in that manner, into all true gospel character. It does not exclude the grace of Christ, or supersede salvation by grace, but on the human side moves toward grace, and is inwardly conjoined with it, in all the characters it forms. The sinning man, who comes into integrity of aim, is put thereby at the very gate of faith, where all God’s helps are waiting for him. Now that he is so tenderly and nobly honest, there is no grace of God, or help of his merciful spirit, that will not flow into him as naturally as light into a window. By this grace, in which he 191 will now trust, his whole being, feeling, aspiration, hope are invested, and the light of God, the brightness of salvation, everlasting life, is in him—he is born of God.
His integrity, therefore, his new and better aim, is not any ground of merit, or title of desert, which dispenses with faith, but his way of coming into faith—thus into the helps, inspirations, joys and triumphs that Christ will inwardly minister—in one word, into the righteousness of God. And accordingly the scriptures formally condition all such helps, on the integrity of the soul that wants them. “Ye shall seek me and find me, if ye search for me with all your heart—that is with a whole and single aim.” “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” The scriptures, we may thus perceive, have no difficulty in finding how integrity is needed in a way of salvation by grace, and there is, in fact, no such difficulty, save as we make it ourselves.
Having discovered, in this manner, what, and how great a thing integrity is, and the necessity of it on strictly Christian grounds, let us note in conclusion, some of the practical relations of the subject. And
1. Consider what it is that gives such peace and loftiness of bearing to the life of a truly righteous man. What an atmosphere of serenity does it create for him, that he is living in a conscience void of offense. And when great storms of trouble drive their clouds about him, when he is assailed by enemies and detractors, persecuted 192 for his opinions, broken down by adversities, thrown out of confidence and respect even, as will sometimes happen, by false constructions of his conduct and malignant conspiracies against his character, still his soul abides in peace, because he justifies himself and has the witness that he pleases God. These clouds that seem to be about him do still not shut him in. He sits above with his God, and they all sail under! Such a man is strong my brethren—how very strong! There is no power below the stars that can shake him! The steaming vapors of a diseased body can not rise high enough to cloud his sun. He is able still and always to make his great appeal and say—“Judge me O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to the integrity that is in me.” Who can understand like him, the meaning of that word—“And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance forever.” Here too—
2. Is the ground of all failures, and all highest successes in religion, or the Christian life. Only to be an honest man, in this highest and genuinely Christian sense, signifies a great deal more than most of us ever conceive. We make room for laxity here that we may let in grace, and do not hold ourselves to that real integrity that is wanted, to receive, or obtain, or be in, that grace. O how loosely, irresponsibly, carnally, do many Christians live—covetous, sensual, without self-government, eager to be on high terms with the world, praying, as it were in the smoke of their vanities and passions, making their sacrifices in a way of compounding 193 with their obligations. Little do they conceive, meantime, how honest a man must be to pray, how heartily, simply, totally, he must mean what he prays for. Perhaps he prays much, prays in private, prays in public, and has it for a continual wonder that he gets on so poorly, and that God, for some mysterious reason, does not answer his prayers! Sometimes he will even be a little heart-broken by his failures, and will moisten his face with tears of complaint. He has made great struggles, it may be, at times, to freshen the fire that was burning in him, and yet, for some reason, he is all the while losing ground. His faith becomes a hand, as it were, without fingers, laying hold of nothing. The more he pumps at the well of his joys, the drier he grows. It is as if there were some dread fatality against him, and he wonders where it is. Commonly it is here—that he wants rectitude. He is trying to be piously exercised in his feeling, when he is slack in his integrity. He has been so much afraid of being self-righteous, it may be, that he is not righteous, at all. When he is loose at the conscience, how can he be clear in his feeling?
Perhaps he has conceived a higher standing in religion, a state of attainment where his soul shall be in liberty, and has tried for whole months, possibly for years, to reach it, and yet he finds it not. He begins to imagine, not unlikely, that no such thing is for him—God’s sovereignty is against him, and he must be content to stay in that lower plane that God has appointed him. “God never means,” he will say, “that 194 I should be much of a Christian—that is given to others that have a higher calling.” Now strange as it may seem, here again is the root of his difficulty—that his projected attainments are clear ahead of his integrity. Some traitor is hid in his soul’s chambers that is kept there, and carefully fed. What is wanting is the integer of a clear, undivided intent. Honesty! honesty! O that Christian men, saying nothing of others, could understand how much it means, and the wonderful power it has! We connive at evil and do it so cunningly that we do not know it. Our eye is evil, we regard iniquity in our heart, therefore do we fail in our prayers, therefore do we lose ground, therefore are we baffled and floored in all our attempts to rise. But it is not so when we have the single eye. Such power is there in this integrity, when it is real, that, making faith real, it makes all gifts attainable. God loves the honest mind, hears the honest prayer, pours all his fulness into the honest bosom. No great flights of ecstatic feeling are wanted, frames carry nothing, but that silent, sound, integrity, which poises the soul on its pivot of truth and self-approbation, is so mighty that it wins its way to God through all obstacles. Here is the secret after all, of the true success in every case. Success is the fixed destiny of any soul that has once reached the point of whole intent. No one need be troubled about his frames, or fluctuations, or even what appear to be his losing moods, if only he can stay by his conscience firmly enough to say, “Judge me O Lord according to mine integrity.” Here then, brethren, is 195 the spot where you are to make your revision, find what your intent is, whether it is honest and whole and clean, warped by no ambiguities, divided and stolen away by no idols. Here the Achan will be hid, if any where. Make sure of his dislodgment, and your way is clear. Then your faith will be faith, your prayers will be prayers; every thing will have its genuine meaning, and God will be revealed in every thing you do. I proceed now
3. To another very important deduction, viz., that every man who comes into a state of right intent, or is set to be a real integer in the right, will forthwith also be a Christian. There is apt to be much pride in men not religious, on the score of their commercial integrity. They will find, if they search more narrowly, that they still have no right conscience in it. They feel themselves to be inwardly wrong. They live in a state of conscious disturbance. They are often consciously disingenuous, as regards the truths and claims of religion. They have consciously a certain dread of God which harrows their peace. What I mean to say, at present, is that whoever gets a clear perception of the state of wrong in which he lives, and comes back into a genuinely right intent, to be carried just where it will carry him, sacrifice what it will cost him—any thing to be right—in that man the spirit of all sin is broken, and his mind is in a state to lay hold of Christ, and be laid hold of by him, almost ere he is aware of it. Nor, when I say this, do I throw discredit on the common modes of expression; for this exactly is the point to 196 which every converted person comes, though he may not so conceive at the time. One may tell of his convictions, another of his fears, another of his unspeakable wants, one of the prayer that he made thus or thus, another of the restitution or acknowledgment he made to some one he had wronged, many of their deep sorrow that melted into joy, many others of the despair they came to in their struggles, under which they fell off helpless in the hands of God’s mercy, and behold it was deliverance itself. But whatever may have been the form of exercise, this most assuredly is in it always, consciously, or unconsciously present, that there is a coming somehow into a state of pure intent, a mind to receive all truth and do all right forever. And no man ever came to this, who did not find himself, at once, all over in the faith of Christ, a consciously and strangely new man.
Let me give you a case, in which this particular point, in the matter of conversion to God, will be clearly distinguished. There died, in the city of New York, about ten years ago, a distinguished merchant, and: much more distinguished saint of God, whose conversion was on this wise. He was born and brought up in the island of Santa Cruz, belonging to a wealthy and gay family, in which he received no religious instruction at all. He had a naturally gay, light, forceful character, and scarcely a religious idea. One Sunday, when the family and their guests went out for a ride, he remained at home. Going to the library for something to read, his eye fell on a book labeled “The Truth of 197 Christianity Demonstrated.” He took it down, saying as he looked on the back of it, “The truth of Christianity demonstrated—the truth of Christianity demonstrated—well if it is, I ought to believe it and live it, and—I will. Let me try the book and see.” Sitting down, at that point, he opened the book and began to read, and though it was an argument only; giving no particular appeal to feeling, he was surprised to find a strange brightness of light on the words. Holy conviction flowed in upon him, a wondrous love waked up in his feeling, a still more wondrous bliss dawned upon his love, and in a very few minutes, it seemed that the helm of his nature was somehow taken by a mysterious power he could not resist. The joy of the change, which he did not understand, or conceive, was so great as to prove its reality; he could never, from that moment, shake off the conviction of his being quite another man. What it was to be a Christian he did not know, but he knew that he was something, which to lose, or cease to be, he could as little think of as losing his life. When the riding party came back, he began forthwith to let out his joy, tell his wonder, testify of Christ, just as he would of any good, gay time he had had before. They were astonished, some of them doubted whether he was not somehow beside himself. But there was no slack in his flame, he went on like the just, growing brighter and brighter. There was no appearance of sanctimony, no cant, he was the same outspoken, social, manly youth, that he had been. Hungering finally after some religious society, he managed 198 to remove to Philadelphia, where he found teaching and sympathy; and great works of duty. He went once to the theater, once to a ball, having no scruples about the right of it, and scarce knowing that he could have. But he never went again, simply because it did not meet his feeling, and gave him no pleasure. He finally came to a settlement in New York, where he was known many years as a man of dignity and power, nobly free and joyous, fond of the young, and open to all humblest minds wanting counsel, the most distinguished mark, and brightest ornament ever known in the churches of that great city. From first to last his Christian life was but a hymn.
At what point now did this remarkable servant of God pass his conversion? Not when he was reading the book, but when he was looking on the back of it; for there it was, in that little deliberation on the label, and the nobly honest conclusion he accepted concerning it, that his soul took hold of integrity, and sin was all reversed! The mere resolve to accept it, if true, decided all. And therefore it was that Christ met him in the book, with a revelation so blessed. Doubtless it was the Spirit of God, working unseen, that drew him out in the previous parley on the label; and every step of the change, nay, of his whole life, was in some sense, worked by a power superior to his own mere will. And yet he had a will, by that consented to believe what is true, and live it in his life.
Now there is no man in this audience, however remote he may have been from the thought of being a 199 Christian, when he came into this place of worship today, who has any thing more to do, in order to be one, than to just come into the same really honest mind. You call not will to believe what is true, and do all right, as fast as you can find it and forever, and go out hence in your sins. Are you not ready my friends for this new and nobler kind of life? Call you lie down tonight and sleep outside of this blessed integrity? How can you think of yourself with respect, as not being a Christian, when that which is demanded of you is only what you think you are demanding of everybody. True, this integrity we speak of is of a higher kind, and more real; is it therefore less to be honored, and less promptly chosen?
And now in conclusion of my subject, I will only lay down God’s indorsement upon it and upon all that I have said, in a single, but remarkable sentence of scripture. I wish it might be remembered, and stay by you always, even from this hour till your last—“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro, through the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” This “perfect heart” means a right conscience, a clean, simple intent. And the substance of the declaration is, that God is on the lookout always for an honest man—him to help, and with him, and for him, to be strong. And if there be one, that God will not miss of him; for his desiring, all-searching eyes are running the world through always to find him. And when he finds him, he will show himself to him in the discovery even of his strength. 200 I believe that he has sometimes found such a man, even in the depths of heathenism, and to him been discovered as the helping and strong friend he longed for. Many a skeptic has he flooded with light, because he saw him willing, at last, to be right, and hungering for something true. This perfect heart, this soul of integrity, my friends—O if we had but this, what else could we fail of? I repeat the word thus explained—put it down to be with you, in your struggles with sin, your sickness, your poverty, your Christian defects and drynesses, all the mind-clouds, all the guilt-clouds, of your mortal state—“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth to show himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.”201
|« Prev||IX. Integrity and Grace.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version